Friday, July 21, 2006

Miriam Makeba Will Perform at Cuban President Fidel Castro's 80th Birthday Celebration

Celebration and Program for the 80th Birthday of President Fidel Castro

July 21, 2006

Singers to Converge on Cuba for August Concert

Pedro de la Hoz

Two days of concerts with many of the top protest and ballad singers
of Latin America will take place in Havana on August 11-12, as a
tribute to President Fidel Castro who celebrates his 80th birthday on
the 13th.

Alfredo Vera, international relations director of the Guayasamin
Foundation in Ecuador, sponsor of the event, told Granma about the
concerts and a special exhibition of works by the late Ecuadorian
painter, Oswaldo Guayasamin. He noted that the foundation held
similar events in 1996 and 2003 in Quito.

Already confirming their presence in Havana are the group Quilapayun, Illapu and Pancho Villa (Chile), Lilia Vera (Venezuela), Daniel Viglietti and Braulio Lopez (Uruguay), Danny Rivera (Puerto Rico), Pueblo Nuevo, Margarita Laso and Patricia Gonzalez (Ecuador) as well as the iconic South African Miriam Makeba.

Leon Gieco, Victor Heredia and Cesar Isella will represent Argentina.
Cuba's participation will include Silvio Rodriguez, Amaury Perez,
Sara Gonzalez, Omara Portuondo, Eliades Ochoa and Adalberto Alvarez.

Other important artists will be announced as they confirm their
presence at the August concerts, said a representative of the Cuban
Music Institute.

Alfredo Vera, an architect and essayist himself, said those agreeing
to perform said they were doing so to sing to the Cuban people as
part of a moment of great historical significance.

Vera recalled that Guayasamin had convoked the first such concert in
1996 to raise funds to finish the Chapel of Humankind. The painter
spoke at the time with Silvio Rodriguez, who suggested inviting the
largest number of voices possible.

When the second event took place in 2003, Guayasamin was no longer alive, and it honored his memory. Both were recorded and the CDs have sold millions of copies around the world.

Concurrent with the concerts, the National Fine Arts Museum in Havana will exhibit a hundred of Guayasamin's works including some of his most famous paintings. Vera said that among them was his first portrait of a Cuban personality, singer Carlos Puebla.

Vera noted: "His family agreed to loan the portrait of the Cuban
singer for the exhibition, but there was something more. They found
among his papers an unpublished song that Puebla dedicated to him in 1963. That year the military had arrested Oswaldo in Quito, although they had to free him. When he found out about Guayasamin's arrest, Puebla wrote a song denouncing the outrage. It's good the song was recovered and it should have a place in one of the concerts."

Partial Program of the Festivities for the 80th Birthday of President Fidel Castro from August 10th-13th.

Celebration in honor of the guests
Place: Karl Marx Theater

A Hug from Guayasamin to Fidel

Place: National Museum of Fine Arts
All The Voices, All
Place: Antimperealist Tribune

Memory and Future: Cuba and Fidel
Place: Convention Palace



Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Miriam Makeba has a long and dramatic career behind her, both as a singer and human rights campaigner. She was the first vocalist to put African music onto the international map in the 1960s. She began to sing professionally as far back as 1950 with the Cuban Brothers, and became known across the land with the jazz group Manhattan Brothers, who toured South Africa, the former Rhodesia and Congo up until 1957. She went on to join the female vocal group, Skylarks, and sang on their disk.

In 1959 Miriam Makeba took on the female lead in the musical "King Kong", about a boxer who kills his sweetheart and later dies in prison. The musical, publicised as a "jazz opera", was a big success in South Africa. To avoid the racist apartheid laws that divided the public, the musical was often performed in universities. That year an American film director, Lionel Togosin, made a documentary film from South Africa on which Miriam Makeba collaborated, and wanted her to present the film at the Venice Festival. Makeba accepted the job and got into hot water with the South African authorities that railed against the negative attention they received through the presentation of the film.

While in Italy, Miriam Makeba decided not to return to South Africa where she got little or nothing in terms of payment for her performances. This resulted in the South African government revoking her passport and denying her the possibility of ever returning to her homeland. Miriam took up refuge in London after the festival and met Harry Belafonte, who helped her to emigrate to the USA. There she built up her career again. She was the first black musician to leave South Africa on account of apartheid, and over the years many others would follow her example.

In America Miriam Makeba had several hits on the 1960s, among them "Pata Pata", "The Clique Song", and the Tanzanian "Malaika", remaining an active opponent of the apartheid regime in her own country. Also, in the USA there was a civil rights movement growing in the 1960s. Miriam Makeba was for some years married to trumpet player and colleague Hugh Masekela, but split from him and in 1968 wed a leader of the black power movement, Stokely Carmichael. This was too much for some of her conservative, white audiences in the USA and she was in trouble with the American authorities. She found support in Nina Simone and others, yet went into exile in Guinea, Africa. She managed to find work outside the USA, and toured Europe, South America and Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. During those years she often appeared at jazz festivals such as the Montreux and Berlin. In 1987 she participated in Paul Simon's Graceland project, defending it even though it officially went against the cultural boycott of South Africa.

Miriam Makeba is African music's first and foremost world star. She is a pioneer who played her early songs and blended different styles long before anyone even began to talk about "world music". Her disk production is spread across many companies all over the world - so far and wide that it's difficult to get a panoramic view of it. But no collection of African music should be without one or more of Miriam Makeba's recordings.

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